Monday, October 03, 2011

Where Achievement Gap Mania Came From

For a short piece, Hess gets the political history of the achievement gap about right. He leaves out the fact that the achievement gap was deliberately created in the first place. And he failed to mention the backlash from the publication of the Bell Curve which added fuel to the fire. But otherwise...

This from Rick Hess at Striaght up:
Last week's National Affairs essay "Our Achievement Gap Mania" has raised a little ire. One thing that might be useful is to situate the debate a bit, both in terms of how we got here and why I have the temerity to suggest that the moral philosophy behind gap-closing is less compelling than proponents seem to imagine.
In the 1960s, in the famed Coleman Report, sociologist James Coleman examined the first large-scale collection of data on school characteristics and student achievement to conclude that schooling had little effect on students' life outcomes and that parents' involvement in their children's lives affected achievement and eventual success much more powerfully than did schooling. An extensive reanalysis by sociologist Christopher Jencks and a team at Harvard similarly concluded that the outcomes of schooling depended almost entirely on "the characteristics of the entering children. Everything else--the school budget, its policies, the characteristics of the teachers--is either secondary or completely irrelevant."
These discouraging conclusions set the stage for decades of lethargic schooling, in which educators excused disappointing results by blaming circumstances beyond their control. The result, in the1980s and then increasingly in the 1990s, was frustration among policymakers and would-be reformers insisting that educators do better. Doubtless, a child's physical, family, and community circumstances had an impact on their readiness for school and the likelihood that they'd succeed, but reformers on the right and left recoiled at the casual acceptance in education circles that zip code was destiny.
Reformers demanded that schools seek to do better by those hard-to-serve students who were too often passed over or ignored. So far, so good. But, as with so much else in schooling, a sensible and healthy impulse was stretched into caricature.
In some form or other, the No Child Left Behind Act was probably inevitable. For too long, inadequate instruction in essential skills and abysmal performance by poor, black, and Latino children have been tacitly accepted as the status quo. NCLB was largely the product of bipartisan frustration among Washington policymakers tired of educators seemingly refusing to accept responsibility for mediocre results. With that support, NCLB passed the U.S. House on a 381-41 vote and the U.S. Senate, 87-10. Achievement gap mania, as a bipartisan project, can be fairly traced to the passage of NCLB. It was NCLB, after all, whose very title formally proclaimed "An Act to close the achievement gap."
The U.S. got the particular NCLB that it did because George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative." Eager to showcase his compassion, he drew upon his record as an education reform in Texas to make the case for educational accountability. However, testing, standards, and accountability alone could too easily seem soulless for a Republican trying to reassure moderates. Thus, Bush spoke not merely of accountability but pledged to "leave no child behind." Bush strategist Karl Rove explained, in Courage and Consequence, that, "When Bush said...that the absence of an accountability system in our schools meant black, brown, poor, and rural children were getting left behind, it...deepened the impression that he was a different kind of Republican whom suburban voters could be proud to support."
That pledge provided much common ground between Bush and congressional Democratic warhorses Senator Ted Kennedy and Rep. George Miller, as well as the influential and left-leaning Education Trust...

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